Pennsylvania ESL Teacher Job Description and ESOL Certification Requirements

Learn how to become an ESL teacher in Pennsylvania by meeting the certification requirements established by the State Board of Education:

#1 ButtonEarn a Pennsylvania Level I or Level II Teaching Certificate
#2 ButtonQualify to Add a Specialist ESL Certificate
#3 ButtonApply to Add an ESL Teaching Certification
#4 ButtonMaintain Your ESL Teaching Certification

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By the most recent count, Pennsylvania was home to more than 45,500 students whose native language was something other than English. This figure represents a nearly 115 percent increase in the number of English language learners (ELL) in the decade since the year 2000. ESL teachers play an important role in bridging the gap between a lack of English proficiency among these students and their academic performance, which will help ensure they are prepared for a successful future.

Pennsylvania schools are bound by law to provide ESL programs for students whose primary language is something other than English. As such, the Department of Education has tasked its Division of Certification Services with ensuring that all prospective ESL teachers are qualified and competent to teach students in this vital subject.



Step 1. Earn a Pennsylvania Level I or Level II Teaching Certificate

The ESL certification requirements in Pennsylvania mandate that you must first become a Level I or Level II teacher before you can apply to add an ESL certification.

The primary requirements for a Level I teaching certification are:

  • Earn at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Complete an approved teacher education program
  • Pass the required basic exam and content test that specifically evaluates your skills in your area of teaching expertise

Planning ahead to become an ESL teacher can save you time as you complete your undergraduate degree and teacher education program. Choosing a major, minor, and teacher education program that incorporates many of the academic courses you must take to be eligible for a Specialist ESL Certificate will save you from having to take these courses later.

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Alternately, you can always take the required ESL academic courses as part of a post-baccalaureate certificate program or master’s degree program terminating in a M.A.T., M.Ed. or MATL. If you already have a bachelor’s degree this will be your default route to qualifying for an ESL certification.

Teachers with at least a Level I Certificate often choose to gain experience in a general field of instruction and then upgrade their certification to a Level II with a master’s degree that additionally confers eligibility for an ESL certificate.

Finally, some colleges and universities offer the option of a master’s degree that confers eligibility for a Level I Teaching Certificate as well as eligibility to add a Specialist ESL Certificate at the same time.

Out-of-State Candidates

If you are an ESL teacher in a different state you may be eligible for a similar teaching certification in Pennsylvania. In addition to the ESL academic requirements you will also still need to meet the Pennsylvania requirements for a Level I or Level II teaching certificate, however if you are already a certified ESL teacher in your home state you may have already fulfilled these requirements. You may become eligible for a Pennsylvania teacher certificate at several points in your career: 

  • When you complete a teacher education program that is approved by your home state and includes student teaching or a year of teaching experience
  • When you have been working as a certified ESL teacher in your home state for at least two years
  • When you have National Board Certification in English as a New Language



Step 2. Qualify to Add a Specialist ESL Certificate

Once you have at least a Level I Teaching Certification you will need to complete specific academic requirements in ESL to add this teaching area to your existing certification. You can find these ESL courses throughout Pennsylvania in colleges and universities that have been approved by the Department of Education as being ESL education providers. An academic program that results in eligibility for an ESL certificate must include at least 15 total credits in the following subject areas:

  • Instructional need of English language learners, including through cultural awareness and programs that take into account a plurality of cultural backgrounds and cultural awareness
  • Creating classroom and educational environments that are conducive to language learning and teaching, including instructional ESL methods and materials
  • Language and literacy developmental stages of English language learners, including the study of linguistics
  • Developing ESL curricula and assessments in line with state and federal policies, protocols, and practices

In addition to the required 15 academic credits you will also need to complete at least 60 hours of student teaching, fieldwork, or practicum experience involving teaching ESL students in a classroom environment.

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Foreign language courses can include some of the required elements for an ESL teaching certificate and are especially useful if you plan to work as a bilingual ESL teacher. When taking foreign language courses, keep in mind that the five most common first languages among Pennsylvania’s English language learner population are:

  • Spanish
  • Vietnamese
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Arabic



Step 3. Apply to Add an ESL Teaching Certification

After you have completed the required ESL academic coursework and you hold at least a Level I Teaching Certificate you will be ready to apply to add a Specialist ESL Certificate. You can do this through the online Teaching Information Management System (TIMS), the same system through which you submit your initial application for teaching certification.

When you submit your online application make sure to include a letter from the school where you completed your ESL coursework that verifies you have completed the requirements for ESL certification in Pennsylvania.

When your application to add this subject area to your certification is approved you will be able to pursue ESL teacher jobs throughout Pennsylvania in grades K-12.

As time goes by and your career develops, remember that you still must fulfill the maintenance requirements to keep your ESL certification valid.



Step 4. Maintain Your ESL Teaching Certification

The first credential you receive is a Level I Teaching Certificate. This is valid for six years, during which time you will need to complete the requirements to upgrade this to a Level II Teaching Certificate. To do this you will need to achieve the following:

  • Have at least three years of satisfactory teaching experience
  • Earn at least 24 credits in post-bac study
  • Complete a teacher induction program

Your teacher induction program will provide you with helpful resources as you transition into your new career niche as an ESL teacher. As part of the induction program you will work in close collaboration with colleagues and administrative staff who will help you to develop teaching goals and identify areas that can be improved. The induction program usually takes one year to complete and offers thorough insights into all aspects of your teaching, curriculum development, and professional education. The ultimate goal of the teacher induction program is to develop the necessary skills that will make you an effective educator in the long term.

You can also add an ESL certification to a Level II Teaching Certificate. The reason many teachers choose to become certified to teach ESL through a master’s degree and a Level II Certificate is because of the post-bac credit requirements to upgrade to a Level II. Many educators see ESL certification as an opportunity to fulfill their upgrade requirements at the same time as they gain certification in an extra field.

National Board Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is a nationally recognized organization that sets the benchmark for teaching excellence in a number of fields, including ESL. Gaining this certification involves completing a lengthy and involved process over the course of at least one year. This certification can be particularly beneficial to out-of-state ESL teachers who are trying to become certified in Pennsylvania. You can pursue NBPTS certification in one of two areas, depending on the ESL grade levels you teach:

Professional Organizations

You may also find it helpful to join professional organizations that are related to the field of ESL. These can provide valuable networking opportunities, news updates and influence regarding legislative changes in ESL, and information about employment prospects statewide. Some professional associations in Pennsylvania include:

  • Three Rivers TESOL (Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages) – this association serves the areas of Central and Western Pennsylvania, providing information on TESOL certification and other ESL resources.
  • Penn TESOL East – serving the eastern regions of Pennsylvania, this organization is dedicated to the improvement and advancement of ESL throughout the state and offers many resources that will help you fulfill the objectives that are laid out in your ESL teacher job description.
  • English Language Learner Initiative – an initiative sponsored by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network whose goals including providing ESL teachers across Pennsylvania with information on professional development opportunities, training, and other relevant educational resources.

Pennsylvania ESL Endorsement Salary Bonus Incentives

A report recently issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education states that many of the Keystone state’s public schools are experiencing a substantial increase in students who cannot speak, read or write English well enough to participate meaningfully in educational programs. Pennsylvania school districts are mandated by law to provide both bilingual and ESL classrooms for non-English or limited English speaking students.

There are approximately 42,542 students in Pennsylvania with limited English language proficiency. Taken together these students speak a total of 175 different foreign languages. Latinos are currently the largest immigrant group. Their numbers have increased from 2.0 percent of the population in 1990; to 3.2 percent in 2000; and 5.9 percent (751,430 people) in 2011. Asians, the second largest block, have increased from 1.1 percent of the population in 1990; to 1.8 percent in 2000 and 2.8 percent (358,168) in 2011.

Pennsylvania was ranked tenth among the highest-paying states for teachers in a 2011 article in The Atlantic online magazine.

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The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists national average annual teacher salaries as:

  • Elementary School – $52,240
  • Middle School – $52,270
  • Secondary School – $53,390

Although ESL teachers per se do not automatically receive higher wages in Pennsylvania, additional education beyond a bachelor’s degree pays off in terms of salaries. The state Office of Human Resources salary schedule lists K-12 teacher starting salaries through 11 incremental raises according to education levels:

  • Bachelor’s degree – $45,360 to $67,705
  • Master’s degree – $46,694 to $76,462
  • Masters plus 30 credit hours – $49,615 to $83,381

The median annual salaries for elementary school teachers in different PA cities are:

  • Allentown – $51,521
  • Erie – $50,723
  • Harrisburg – $52,000
  • Pittsburg – $51,947
  • Philadelphia – $54,821
  • Scranton – $52,000

The table below provides 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary information for Adult, Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers (Adult ESL teachers are included in this broader category).

Area name
Annual Median Salary
Harrisburg-Carlisle PA
Lancaster PA
Philadelphia PA Metropolitan Division
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD
Pittsburgh PA
Reading PA
West Central Pennsylvania nonmetropolitan area
Northeastern Pennsylvania nonmetropolitan area
Estimate Not Released
East Central Pennsylvania nonmetropolitan area

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